Larissa Lai has created a very strange world in The Tiger Flu, a lightning fast eruption of a novel. In this future version of our earth, waves of plagues have killed off many men; Caspian tigers have been restored from extinction; famine is widespread; some women have been genetically engineered to parthogenetically reproduce or regrow parts of their bodies; metallic scales and drugs can create extraordinary, half-real hallucinations; climate change has completely changed the landscape, and more. To be honest, I didn’t always understand what was going on because a) it all happened so fast, b) there’s a lot of whatever it was, and c) it’s hard to tell what was happening in reality and what was happening in dreams or visions.
We follow two characters through this welter of ideas and settings. Kora Ko, a resident of Saltwater City, lives on the margins of the city geographically and financially. When her mother and uncle hit the end of their rope, they send Kora very much against her will to the Cordova Dancing School. The school teaches “dance” techniques that allow the girls who live there to scrape a living from the ruined countryside. She runs away every chance she gets to try and find her family again, but is almost always side-railed into what other people bully her into.
Meanwhile, Kirilow Groundsel ministers to her wife, who is called a starfish for her ability to regenerate lost limbs and organs. After a terrible crisis during which her wife and the village’s doubler (who births clone daughters) die and most of the rest of the inhabitants are kidnapped, Kirilow heads for Saltwater City on a rescue/revenge mission. Like Kora, Kirilow is waylaid time and again because she is bullied into doing something or is flat-out kidnapped by someone to get her to use her doctoring skills for the kidnapper’s benefit. Every side quest means that her revenge/rescue gets pushed further on the back burner.
There are so many other characters who pop into Kirilow and Kora’s stories and try to get the girls (they’re teenaged) to do things or just derail them for their own purposes. While we eventually learn these characters’ motivations, I never really understood why they acted the way they did. There’s a serious lack of explaining in The Tiger Flu. Almost every fact Kirilow, Kora, and I as a reader learned is gleaned from context. To be honest, I was bewildered most of the time—and occasionally irritated by the stubbornness of all the characters and belligerent dialogue. There’s a lot of characters shouting “No!” at each other in strange settings. Readers who can roll along with it will be rewarded by some answers and some resolution at the end. For me, though, the exotic science fictional setting and technologies were not enough to make up for the things that annoyed or confused me.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss, for review consideration. It will be released 2 October 2018.